Flipping the image: Why sound matters

There’s no doubt: The human being is visually inclined.

It is estimated that the sense of sight provides approximately 80% of the information we receive about the world during a day. With vision being our primary way of perceiving the world, in certain ways, sound can be compared to movies – just like a movie, our perception and understanding of sound is formed through its movement over time. When we’re describing pictures, it’s easy to agree on and concretise colours and shapes.

Sound is, however, significantly different from our other senses, in the sense that sound is intangible. One second it’s there, the next it’s gone. Therefore, it can be a challenge to describe a sound in the same way: While it’s relatively easy to tell if a sound is far away or nearby, or to describe a sound as being low or high pitched, getting any more specific than this can be difficult. There’s no specific word for the sound of a guitar other than “it sounds like a guitar” – thus, we tend to discuss and think about sound in relation to things and objects rather than as a phenomenon in itself.

But if sound is intangible and hard to talk about, why does it even matter?

Sound vs image

Here’s something most people will recognise – a train door, closing.















Here’s a sound recording of the same door closing.

Try closing your eyes and listen. If you often catch the train (or at least a Danish one), you will probably recognize this sound – if not, your imagination will kick in, feeding you images of something mechanical in motion, and possibly you will get the idea of something opening and closing.

Here’s a quarter of a second of the same video clip.















Even though it is very short, it is still quite possible to deduce a lot of information from the video clip: The train is still identifiable, and it’s still possible to tell the doors are closing by their motion.

Listening to a random quarter of a second of the sound clip – its source becomes much harder to imagine.

Flipping the image

The example above shows that our understanding of sound is much more dependent on a context than pictures. Sound is a much more blurred, elusive and abstract phenomenon. It moves over time and cannot be stopped, which makes it much harder to analyse and discuss, making it a very subjective experience. But at the same time, sound is all around us at all times – it’s the element that binds us together:

There is so much sound in the world, and still, in our daily lifes, we might not give much thought to the sounds we hear – they are merely just there, as part of things. But if we truly listen, that is, become conscious and connect with what we hear, we will find that sound carries information that visuals can not: It sparks our imagination, speaks directly to our feelings, paints inner pictures. It inspires and moves us, and sound art emphasises all of this: It puts sound in a new context, shining a new light. It’s an invitation to reflect upon sound – or the absence of it. Sound art explores and combines visuals and sound in new and interesting ways, allowing us to flip the image, shift our perspective, making us view things from another angle, or, with another feeling and intensity, showing us new and different sides of things – and perhaps even ourselves.